With some incredible weather recently, we just had an 11-day streak of days out on the water (there are no such things as weekends during the field season!). This has meant lots of time with the animals, plenty of data collected, and a very tired but happy research team! Out of the last 11 days, we saw DB behavior on 8 days and recorded more than 25 hours of audio while seeing over 100 DB bouts! On one record-setting day, we were on the water for 7 hours and got audio for roughly 5 of those hours with DB bouts from 4 different drivers! One of the most exciting developments during this stint on the water was the discovery of several new drivers. Some are animals we have never known before this season, but others are familiar fins that we have never seen drive before. In the photos below, you can see an animal known as SYYR. We first saw SYYR in 2015, but did not see it participate in DB. This year, we found SYYR with a slightly changed fin and he/she is now a driver. These ‘new kids on the block’ are giving us better odds of seeing DB as the season continues and allow us to compare the details of DB behavior between different individuals. For example, some drivers always start a DB bout with big, loud tail-slaps that are thought to startle the fish, while other drivers are never seen using tail-slaps. We are excited to analyze the audio data to see whether there are also individual differences in vocal production during the behavior! For now, we have a few days of high winds expected that are keeping us on land, but provide a good opportunity to catch-up on data processing and sleep!
A lot of our work this summer involves focal follows. This is when researchers find animals of particular interest (DB animals, in our case), and follow them for an extended period of time to watch their behavior. A lot of people assume dolphin research is always fun and we do love our work, but it can also be extremely boring at times! We have done several focal follows this season on driver dolphins for over 4 hours each without a single DB bout! If they’re only in the mood to rest or travel the entire day, that’s all we get to see. Since so few individuals do DB in the first place, this makes seeing the behavior very rare. If we could have multiple eyes on the area at one time, we would be sure to find DB in progress more often… so we’d like to recruit your help! If you specifically see DB (dolphins catching mullet in air; see photos below) from land or on the water around Cedar Key/Waccasassa Bay/Withlacoochee Bay between now and August 20th, please send us a message on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know when and where you saw it. A couple pictures or a short video could also be really helpful. This is your chance to participate in citizen science and help us achieve our research goals this summer!